For wonderful skiing, beautiful architecture, lively nightlife and superb cuisine, Switzerland has an un-paralleled and richly deserved reputation. For many years people have associated the Swiss resorts with expense, but while it’s true there are more 6* luxury chalets here than anywhere else in Europe, you can pick up some real bargains even in glamorous resorts such as Verbier and Zermatt – there really is something for everyone.
Many of the major Swiss resorts are dominated by grand hotels built during the 1920s and 30s so the numbers of chalets on offer can sometimes seem a bit slim, especially in comparison with some of the larger French resorts like La Plagne
or Val d’Isere
. That said, there’s been a notable increase in the numbers of British skiers heading to Switzerland in recent years and large numbers of new chalets have been constructed to meet demand, with Zermatt
in particular benefiting from a huge increase in numbers of mid-range chalets.
Geography and Climate
Located in the western Alps, there are four main ski ‘regions’ in Switzerland. The most popular are the Valais and Vud regions which are home to Zermatt, Verbier
and the 4 Valleys, Saas-Fee and Crans Montana
. The stylish resorts of Davos, Klosters
and St Moritz
are in the German speaking Graubunden region and Gstaad, the last word in Alpine luxury, is in the Bernese Oberland region.
The weather in Switzerland tends to be dominated by long periods of stable conditions, offering wonderful opportunities to either top up your tan or ski fresh powder, depending on which weather system is dominant at the time! Switzerland tends to see excellent early and mid season snow, with conditions deteriorating towards the end of the season because of the southerly aspect of many of the resorts.
For families bringing children to the mountains, the priority is often proximity to the slopes for easy ski access and less hassle. This can be a bit of an issue in Switzerland because, unlike France
, there aren’t really any of those functional, purpose built resorts like Tignes
or La Plagne to choose from, so you will generally be faced with a bit of a walk or a bus trip to get to the slopes. If you are looking for something really convenient then Saas-Fee has a good selection of ski in/ski out properties.
There is also a good selection of chalets close to the main lift stations in both Verbier and Zermatt, although these do command something of a premium in terms of price! Snowboarders For boarders, the variety of slopes available and the sheer range of off piste potential is excellent, especially for those looking to push themselves a bit harder.
Beginners can find Switzerland a little bit of a trial though as there is a relatively high number of drag lifts and t-bars still in use, especially in the less popular resorts and in the far reaches of the larger ski areas, which can make life difficult for snowboarders. Verbier, for example, has replaced almost all of its drag lifts in the local area but if you venture further into the 4 Valleys you will still find a few on the upper slopes. The link between Zermatt and Cervinia
is also still reliant on drag lifts. Overall though, the Swiss lift system has seen a huge amount of investment and improvement over the past 10 years and can now truly compete with France and Austria
in terms of both capacity and quality of the lifts.
Half pipes and snow parks have long been a stand out feature of Swiss resorts with huge effort being ploughed into creating some of the finest parks in the world. Saas Fee
’s snow park has been designed by one of Britain’s top coaches and is popular as a year round training destination for professionals. Any serious freestyle boarders there will be in good company! Verbier is also home to a huge park in the La Chaux area which has a giant airbag for learning new tricks in relative safety as well as separate lines for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders.
If you prefer steep and deep turns through fresh powder to hips and kickers in the park, then Switzerland is the perfect destination. Off-piste itineraries (which are patrolled but not groomed) are detailed on the piste maps in Swiss resorts, allowing those who are just starting out in freeride to enjoy the powder in slightly safer conditions. But do remember to always take a guide if you’re not 100% confident!
Switzerland is steeped in a skiing tradition going back years and years, and offers a huge range of slopes for all abilities. Experts and those looking to push themselves hard are best suited to resorts like Verbier and Zermatt, which have a huge amount of easily accessible off-piste and a good range of steep runs. Those who are a little bit less confident can find some more gentle pistes in resorts like Saas-Fee and Wengen
Those looking for cross country skiing are spoilt for choice with specifically designed routes in all of the major resorts, and freestyle skiers can enjoy first class snow park throughout Switzerland as well as a good number of skier-x courses as well.
Those who enjoy lengthy lunches in the sunshine are in 7th heaven in Switzerland, as the Swiss take their food just as seriously as their skiing, although eating out is usually quite expensive. There are three traditional lunch dishes in Switzerland and they all have a fairly similar list of ingredients – cheese, meat, potato and bread! The most popular are the traditional rostis and a dish called a croute.
The rosti is shredded potato formed into a circular shape about a centimetre thick and then fried and topped with various ingredients, the most popular being eggs and bacon. A croute is essentially a very posh version of cheese on toast, again topped with various items to create the perfect Alpine lunch! Fondues are also very popular too, and the German influence on Swiss cuisine is evidenced by the hearty veal sausages found on many menus.
Groups are particularly well catered for in Switzerland, with a huge range of larger chalets as well as the increasingly popular ‘chalet hotels’ sleeping 40—60 people in a relaxed and informal environment. Package tour operators are continually expanding their presence in the country so you don’t have to worry about organising your own flights and transfers, they’re included. Those travelling with 7 or more people can usually benefit from a group discount and there are a great selection of ‘2-4-1’ offers on lift passes this year too!
Switzerland offers visitors a great half-way house between the French and Austrian après-ski styles, with a great selection of bars with live music, dancing on tables and jugs of beer as well as more sedate terrace affairs where you can relax with a bottle of wine and soak up the rays. Those looking for a more lively resort should generally head to the established resorts of Verbier and Zermatt as there’s a great selection of late night bars and nightclubs to keep everyone entertained into the early hours!